Recovering addicts thankful for their Blue Island home away from heroin
BY CASEY TONER firstname.lastname@example.org May 1, 2012 11:02PM
Recovering heroin addicts Timothy Huesman (left) and Larry Sago talk about their recovery at the Affordable Recovery Foundation in Blue Island, Illinois, Monday, April 16, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Orland Township will sponsor a public symposium on alcohol and drug abuse, with a focus on heroin, from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday in the gym at Sandburg High School, 13300 S. LaGrange Road in Orland Park.
Those with questions about addiction and the Affordable Recovery Foundation should call Wayne Keys at (708) 299-0758.
Updated: June 3, 2012 8:01AM
Their “home” is a converted high school with two-man, dormitory-style rooms.
Affordable Recovery Housing in Blue Island nevertheless is a big step up for Timothy Huesman and Larry Sago.
Huesman, 32, and Sago, 44, are recovering heroin addicts, two of the faces of a drug abuse problem that officials say has grown into an epidemic in the Southland. But these two have pushed their way off rock-bottom and now are living in the building at 13811 S. Western Ave. that once housed Mother of Sorrows Catholic High School.
Recovering addicts are sent there to stay clean and get their lives back on track while learning trades including carpentry, plumbing, small engine repair, auto maintenance, tuckpointing and detailing. The facility offers rooms and meals as well as access to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
Some of the addicts wind up with construction jobs during their stays, with their pay going to the nonprofit Affordable Recovery Foundation, which finances the housing. Some of them wind up keeping jobs in the trades.
“They try to assist you to become a productive member of society,” Sago said.
A turning point
Sago came to the halfway house in January after being charged with stealing batteries out of roadside signs and possessing a quarter-pound of marijuana in his car.
A judge gave him the choice of sobering up or spending the next several years in jail.
It was a difficult decision to make for Sago, who grew up near Garfield Park in Chicago. After all, he started snorting heroin when he was 21.
While he always had a roof over his head, Sago admits to lying, cheating and stealing over the past two decades just to get a bag of heroin.
The three months he has been sober at the Blue Island facility represent the longest time he has been sober in his adult life. He has been learning how to install drywall and other skills he hopes to turn into a career.
Sago said he wants to reconnect with his four children, some of whom have seen him high.
“I started getting high and I told them I had stopped,” Sago said. “Now I have to go apologize (to my daughter) and be serious. When she was a kid, she saw me using drugs and I know she’s not going to forget that, not at all. Now I’m just trying to do the right thing.”
‘Whole sea’ of users
Huesman came to the facility after spending the last six months at the Pinckneyville Correctional Center. The Oak Lawn resident was convicted of felony retail theft in October after getting caught stealing over-the-counter medicine from drugstores.
Huesman, a 1999 graduate of St. Laurence High School, first snorted heroin at a friend’s house in Justice when he was 19. Huesman was working at a warehouse in Chicago at the time and thought he could manage it.
“Heroin is a subtle attack,” Huesman said. “It feels good when you do it and you wake up with no consequences, no hangover. But before you know it, you’re doing twice that amount.”
He said he initially could work his job while doing heroin. But as his addiction got worse, he couldn’t hold on to a job anymore.
“It takes priority over all of that,” he said.
Huesman lived with his parents until they kicked him out. Then he lived homeless in Chicago, where he would spend his days doing heroin and conning people into giving him money.
“There’s a whole sea of 18- to 30-year-olds living in the Loop,” Huesman said. “All they do is hustle all day long and ride the (CTA) Green Line to the West Side of Chicago. They either can’t go back home or they won’t go back home. Whenever people in society keep you at arm’s length, you gravitate toward people like yourself.”
The longest Huesman has been sober in the past 10 years is about three years. It came to an end when he broke a rib putting together an office cubicle and the doctor prescribed a painkiller. He took it, and that sparked a relapse.
Huesman said his immediate day-to-day goal is staying sober. Through the program, he can attend daily Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and meet other recovering addicts.
Eventually, he wants to go back to college and earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology. But for now, his goal is to be clean a day at a time.
“It’s a world of difference when you’re actively addicted to heroin,” Huesman said. “You have no hope. When you get sober, you begin to realize how much you’ve been missing.”